The Socratic method has been used for centuries in higher education, particularly in the study of law, medicine, and philosophy. The Socratic method is often referred to as teaching by questioning. By using the Socratic teaching method online, faculty afford students the opportunity to utilize critical thinking skills while helping them to see the relevance of the content to their lives outside of the classroom, i.e. in “the real world.”
In this article, I will explore strategies for increasing student learning and critical thinking skills through use of the Socratic teaching method online. By using the Socratic teaching method online, faculty afford students the opportunity to utilize critical thinking skills while helping them to see the relevance of the content to their lives outside of the classroom, i.e. in “the real world.” The Socratic method has been used for centuries in higher education, particularly in the study of law, medicine, and philosophy. The online learning environment provides greater opportunities for interaction and participation than the traditional classroom setting. The 24/7 learning environment makes it possible for all students to participate in discussion; this would not be possible within the time constraints of an on-ground class. The online environment also helps many students to overcome shyness or insecurity that can be a barrier to their active participation in on-ground classes. A true collaborative learning community can be developed.
The Socratic method is often referred to as teaching by questioning. Implementation of the Socratic teaching method online generally involves creating a strategically planned series of questions that guide students to understand, apply, and synthesize the fundamental concepts within the week’s learning objectives. Utilization of these higher level cognitive processes are more effective than rote learning and memorization at helping students retain the content in the long-term. The Socratic method involves asking questions that seek clarification, examine evidence, probe theoretical foundations, explore different perspectives, and predict implications and consequences. New perspectives are discovered. Potential solutions to complex real-life problems through application of class materials are discussed and analyzed.
Queries of Fundamental Understanding
One type of questioning that can be used in online discussion boards is queries of fundamental understanding. These questions incorporating phrases such as:
- state in your own words
- what does this mean
- give an example
- condense this paragraph
- state in one word
- what expectations are there
- what are they saying
- which statements support
- translate, judge, classify, select, match, explain, represent
- is this the same as
- is it valid that
- what would happen if? (PSU, 2004).
Questions of Application and Analysis
Questions of application and analysis require that students learn core principles and relationships, and then apply them in a real-life situation or problem to be solved (PSU, 2004). These questions can be crafted using phrases such as
- predict what would happen if
- choose the best statements that apply,
- judge the effects
- what would result
- tell how, when, where or why
- identify the results of
- what assumptions
- what motive is there
- what is the premise
- what's the relationship between
- implicit in this statement is
- what is the function of
- what does the author believe or assume
- state the point of view
- what inconsistencies or fallacies (PSU, 2004).
Evaluation and Synthesis Questions
Evaluation and synthesis questions require students to integrate concepts from different disciplines into unfamiliar and often unexpected scenarios (PSU, 2004). These questions can be crafted using phrases such as
- how would you test
- propose an alternative
- solve the following
- plan, design, make up, compose, formulate
- how else would you
- state a rule
- appraise, judge, criticize, defend
- what fallacies, consistencies, or inconsistencies appear
- which is more important, moral, better, logical, valid, or appropriate
- find the errors
- compare (PSU, 2004).
Use of the Socratic teaching method online not only helps students understand and apply fundamental concepts of the course content, but it also increases the relative value of the material to students. This will improve the ability of students to retain and use their education to solve the complex problems that exist in the workplace and society. How do you use the methods described in your online classes?
Let’s have a dialogue about this in the comment section below!
Pennsylvania State University. (2004). Crafting questions for online learning.
Teaching and learning with technology.